Citing Anti-Israel Protests, Emerson College Says Fall Enrollment Off Sharply and May Lead to Staff Layoffs

Emerson College’s announcement may be the first of many to come out of American universities that failed to contain anti-Israel campus protests.

Pool/Mary Altaffer via AP
A protester waves a Palestinian flag above the occupied Hamilton Hall, renamed Hind's Hall, on the Columbia campus, April 30, 2024, at New York. Pool/Mary Altaffer via AP

In the first of what may be many such announcements in the coming weeks and months, Emerson College said on Wednesday that the size of their incoming class of freshman has fallen short of expectations to an extent that the school may need to lay off staff. 

The statement marks an early indication of the consequences of the anti-Israel student protests which shook American college campuses this past academic year. 

The enrollment notice, issued by the president, attributed the small class size to “multiple factors,” including national enrollment trends and deposit delays in response to the new FAFSA rollout. 

Mention of student protests was tacked on at the end, with note of “student protests targeting our yield events and campus tours, and negative press and social media generated from the demonstrations and arrests” contributing as well. 

As a result, the College is reportedly facing budget cuts and pressure to lay off faculty members. 

The Boston-based college came under fire for its seemingly preferential treatment of anti-Israel student protesters and laissez-faire approach to Jewish students’ concerns of antisemitism. 

Jewish students at Emerson described the campus as “hostile” and “unsafe,” according to interviews by the Berkeley Beacon, Emerson’s student-run newspaper. Several Jewish students were so unsettled by the protests that they chose to relocate to off-campus hotel rooms. Others considered transferring. 

The conflict came to a head when Massachusetts state troopers cleared the encampments at the direction of Boston’s mayor, Michelle Wu, and arrested more than 100 students. 

The administration reportedly posted bail for all of the arrested students, urged the Boston police to drop all charges, and even offered to provide them with summer housing until their legal cases were resolved. 

Their over-the-top support for the arrested students drew criticism from Jewish community members, who accused the administration of “appeasement.”

The college president, Jay Bernhardt, eventually issued an apology, citing the administration’s intentions to “balance our genuine support for student civic activism with our commitment to safety on our urban campus.”  

Reports of rampant antisemitism were not unique to Emerson nor was the mounting criticism of its administration’s response. The college joins the likes of Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, and countless other universities which made headlines for becoming hotbeds of chaos, violence, antisemitism, and mistrust, all the while offering Jewish students little support. 

While Emerson leads the pack in its public announcement, the impact of antisemitism on Jewish students’ school choice is already being seen. 

Most recently, Yeshiva University, a private Orthodox Jewish institution with four locations across New York, has reported an uptick in student applications. The university has seen a 53 percent increase in student transfer applications from Yale, Cornell, and Columbia, Fox Business reports

The report stokes speculations of an impending Jewish student Ivy League “exodus.” If proven true, additional announcements of low university enrollment may be imminent.


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